Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver that, in its most severe form, can cause liver disease, liver failure and in some extreme cases, liver cancer. In this article we'll explain everything you need to know about taking a Hepatitis B test.
It's estimated that 5% of the world's population carry the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) asymptomatically, and while symptomatic infections in the UK have been on a steep decline since the 1980s (down from 200,000 to 20,000 per year) and this is due in part to increased awareness and evermore refined testing.
With that in mind, if you're concerned that you might have contracted Hepatitis B, your doctor is likely to carry out an initial physical examination followed by the more definitive way of determining if you are infected with the virus; conducting a series of blood tests.
But how do you test for Hepatitis B, what do the tests entail, and what exactly is your doctor looking for in order to determine whether or not you have become infected with the Hepatitis B virus? We'll talk you through everything you need to know and more in this article.
For all intents and purposes, diagnostic tests for Hepatitis B don't differ depending on gender.
Fundamentally, they centre on taking blood and reviewing its constituent parts to see if an infection is present.
More specifically, whether you are suffering from acute Hepatitis B or a chronic Hepatitis B infection, three core tests are used, in conjunction, to determine the state of your infection.
This test is used to determine whether or not you are contagious.
As such, if your Hepatitis B surface antigen test returns a positive result, then it is confirmed that you both have the virus and can transmit the virus to others.
Naturally, therefore, a negative result indicates that you don't currently have Hepatitis B.
This test is used specifically to determine whether or not you are currently infected with Hepatitis B.
If you return a positive result, it is confirmed that you have either acute Hepatitis B or chronic Hepatitis B.
Again, a negative test will confirm you are currently free of the Hepatitis B virus infection.
Unfortunately, however, these tests alone cannot dictate what form of Hepatitis B you have. Rather, the length of time with which you carry viral Hepatitis symptomatically determines whether or not you have chronic Hepatitis B or, of course, acute Hepatitis.
The HBV surface antibody test isn't used to determine if you are currently infected with the virus; rather, its purpose is to inform as to whether you have immunity to the virus.
Clearly, then, a positive result suggests that you have Hepatitis B virus (HBV) antibodies and are therefore immune to the virus. A negative result, of course, means you do not carry said immunity.
If you do return a positive result, there are 2 potential explanations.
The first is that you may have received a Hepatitis B vaccine (Hepatitis B immune globulin) that has successfully induced your body into developing antibodies.
The other explanation is that you may have overcome an acute infection of the virus and thus established immunity organically.
A final set of tests that you might receive are liver function tests.
These aren't used to test for acute or chronic infection; rather, they are conducted in response to a confirmed HBV infection due to the virus' potential to cause liver diseases in severe cases.
More specifically, liver function tests will be used to gain an insight into your liver's enzyme production. If high levels of liver enzymes are present, it may indicate that your liver is damaged, inflamed or under stress.
In rare cases, it may also be necessary for your physician to take a liver biopsy along with your blood test. This should determine the current state of your liver and enable your medical team to treat your condition appropriately.
However, it's important to note that 95% of adults who contract Hepatitis B make a full recovery without the need for such treatments.
As referred to above, Hepatitis B testing doesn't differ depending on gender, nor does it differ depending on whether you have a chronic or acute HBV infection.
That is, of course, unless your doctor suspects that you may have developed liver damage, in which case, those with a long-term, chronic infection are more likely to receive liver function tests.
However, due to testing being based on the constituents of the blood, if you are a woman expecting Hepatitis B tests, you are also likely to receive the following 3 in conjunction:
Ultimately your doctor will determine whether you require a test for an HBV infection; however, certain circumstances may dictate that you require a test despite being asymptomatic.
Circumstantial influences aside, it's also important to be able to recognise the symptoms of Hepatitis B so that if you develop any in a persistent manner, you can contact your doctor in good time.
Admittedly many of these symptoms can indicate a multitude of other sicknesses. However, if you harbour concerns, it's best to contact your doctor to determine precisely what the cause is.
As stated above, Hepatitis B is diagnosed by a medical professional via blood testing, physical examination, and gathering evidential information regarding potential exposure to the virus.
If your physician has sufficient reason to suspect you may have become infected, they will arrange for you to partake in screening tests in order to conclusively discover if you have contracted the disease.
If you have received a positive Hepatitis B diagnosis, the first thing to do is not to panic.
While a Hepatitis B infection is a serious condition, 95% of adults who contract it are able to fight off the virus within 1-3 months. This is classed as acute Hepatitis B due to the short duration of illness.
Furthermore, most are capable of recover without the need for additional treatment; plenty of fluids, rest and a balanced diet are generally sufficient treatments.
That being said, Hepatitis B is incredibly contagious, so one must take certain precautions to reduce the risk of transmission. For example:
Avoid sharing objects that may carry your bodily fluids, e.g. razor blades, toothbrushes etc. Avoid having sex, particularly unprotected sex and listen and adhere to your doctor's advice.
If you require further treatment and/or develop chronic Hepatitis, it's still probable that you'll make a full recovery when the correct medical action is taken. Once you are declared free of chronic or acute infection, you may return to your usual habits.
However, always take care to reduce the risk of transmission. If this means adjusting your habits, for example, no longer sharing razor blades, do so.
Those most at risk of developing Hepatitis B are as follows:
In general terms, the difference between acute and chronic Hepatitis B is the duration of symptomatic infection.
Acute Hepatitis B infection lasts 1-3 months and is generally less severe than chronic HBV. However, it can still cause serious illness in rare cases.
With that in mind, chronic HBV infection is defined as a long-term, symptomatic contraction of the virus. As such, chronic infections tend to last above and beyond 6 months and are more inclined to result in more serious diseases.
The Hepatitis B vaccine is a very effective inoculator and greatly reduces your chances of developing acute or chronic HBV infections. However, it isn't 100% effective and yields meaningful protection in only 9/10 people.
Contracting the Hepatitis B virus can impact a person's life to varying degrees depending on the severity of the infection.
As stated previously, 95% of adults recover from the virus within 1-3 months without the need for further treatment.
In such cases, the impact is relatively low and largely revolves around necessary home-based adaptations such as adequate rest, the consumption of a balanced diet and adhering to protocols designed to reduce the risk of transmission.
If someone suffers from a more severe Hepatitis B infection and becomes chronically infected, the tests, treatments and potential for hospitalization increase. In such eventualities, having Hepatitis B will have a far greater impact.